Kevin Sansalone has enjoyed a very fruitful career in professional snowboarding and, at 34, continues to drop in on sketchy jumps, no-fall steeps, city jibs and creative business undertakings, most notably the Sandbox films and his newest, Whitegold Snowboards.
The B.C. rider grew up on North Vancouver's infamous Mt. Seymour and says it, "was the most amazing stepping stone -- not only for me but a lot of young riders over the years. [It was a] great place to grow up as a shredder or skater..."
His first win, in '98, in the huge-at-the-time Westbeach Classic in Whistler -- as an unsponsored, totally uninvited rider -- showed that he had the requisite skills and could handle contest pressure. "Winning a big contest like that in your hometown with all your friends and family there is so cool ..." he says. "I snuck in because some big pros never showed up 'cause it was raining."
He followed that up with some X Games Gold in Big Air in '99, and that win really opened the flood gates on his career, making him one of the sport's most recognizable names and faces ever since. Through it all he has had his fingers in too many pies to mention, but has always kept a sense of humor about all his pursuits, kept keeping snowboarding fun his #1 priority and stayed true to his B.C. roots.
I didn't want to compete with everyone else out there. I didn't want to start a business at all, I just wanted to make some killer boards and make a few extras for people interested in them. src="http://a.espncdn.com/i/story/design07/dropQuoteEnd.gif" />
Twenty-plus years and engaged at the top levels as Kev has been, means you've ridden a lot of boards. And that you've ridden them in everything from man-made ice at contests, to dodgy scaffolding kickers, to the 35 feet of pow Whistler typically gets per annum. (Plus, as the recent Chinese Downhill demonstrated, riding runs like Whistler's Peak to Creek often means dealing with five kinds of snow in one shot.)
Sansalone had his own pro model with Option for eight years ['98-'06] and was involved in the boards' development every season, testing sidecuts and flex patterns hot off the presses from its Vancouver factory, all under the tutelage of design guru Johnny Q.
Now, with Johnny Q in tow, Sansalone is taking all those years of board testing all the way with his new Whitegold Snowboards (named after the Whistler sub-division he now calls home). We hit Kevin up for the low-down on the new bro-down.
ESPN.com: How long have you been making Whitegolds and how many models are currently in the line?
Kevin Sansalone: I have been testing boards for four years now but selling them for two. We currently have three sizes and two come in both rocker and regular camber. We have a new 156 zero camber board that I've been riding all winter that may be out next year. Our new project is the all wooden boards. We are still in the early testing stages, but they are ripping up the pow right now.
Are they in shops or just buy direct?
You can just buy direct from me in person or off the website for now.
You and Q have designed a number of boards together before this new venture, correct?
Yes, we worked together at Option Snowboards in Vancouver before this. We have been great friends and making boards together for over 10 years now.
For those who don't know, who is Johnny Q and what makes him such a fine engineer when it comes the nuances that make good boards into great boards? Guy's a bit of a legend around B.C...
Yeah, Johnny Q is a legend alright: half design legend and half philosophical hippy surf guitar guru [laughs]. Just kidding. Johnny cut his design teeth at Option Snowboards in the mid-to-late '90s. He came to Canada from Australia with a huge passion for snowboarding. This passion mixed with his engineering degree made him move up the ladder quick. He started shaping and designing boards and board tooling and presses. He would design new stuff all week long and then bring the boards up to my place in Whistler and test them out. Those were some really fun times. Johnny has a fun, outgoing personality that made him stand out to the core riders in Whistler. He was one of the riders but he was smart like a scientist [laughs]. Plus he gave everyone free test boards to ride so everyone loved him.
How long did it take you guys to get some shapes that you thought were ready for market?
The shapes and board design didn't take too long cause we had worked so much together in the past and knew what we wanted. The hold up was that I was dragging my feet a little deciding if I wanted to actually start a board brand and what kind of business model approach I was comfortable with.
And what was your approach?
I didn't want to compete with everyone else out there. I didn't want to start a business at all, I just wanted to make some killer boards and make a few extras for people interested in them.
How many Whitegolds have you sold so far?
Only about 50 boards, no joke. These are rare.
At $800 each, these aren't pop-out cheap-o boards, either. Who do you see as the ideal Whitegold customer and why?
They are not cheap but they aren't way out there expensive either. [Editor's note: Burton's top-end Method is $1,499.] My customer is a rider who knows what he wants. He or she looks at the spec sheet on the website [and] asks a lot of questions about construction and design. They want high quality and some individuality and exclusivity. Not everyone is going to have one of these boards on the hill.
What do you think you and Q have brought to these designs that makes them different and/or better than the hundreds of boards you've previously ridden?
They aren't ultra-technical with gimmicks and gadgets like other high-end boards some brands are putting out. These are no gimmick boards: straight up good wood and glass, a little carbon and a really fast base material. The shapes and flexes are made for all mountain freestyle riding. These boards can ride everything because I like to ride everything: park, rails, backcountry jumps and lines -- even the Baker Banked Slalom and the Whistler Chinese Downhill are perfect for Whitegold boards.
What's the deal with that new powder board, The Stogie? The Pocket Woody? Looks pretty retro but it's clear it performs ...
The new Woody project is exactly what we are all about, i.e. trying all kinds of different stuff. We all love to ride pow and these boards just make riding pow so effortless. The feeling you get when you're on one of these boards is pure style and flow. We wanted to try some sustainable materials as well. Johnny and I are both surfers and I am really interested in what Fletcher Chouinard and others are doing with all wooden surfboards.
Why does the snowboard world need Whitegold and what are your plans for the brand in the next few seasons?
The snowboard world doesn't need Whitegold, that's why we aren't shoving it down their throats. We are just here making some cool boards. Try one, you'll love it.
Okay, enough hype on the new rare boards ... Could you name some favorite videos you've been in charge of either with Sandbox or Skids or both?
The original "Skids" movie was cool because we had no intentions of anything and then some people got a hold of a copy and gave us awesome reviews. It was the start of something cool. "Skids 2" -- because we were still doing it with no sponsors and having so much fun. The first Sandbox video was cool for me 'cause we started shooting a lot of 16mm film and taking it a little more seriously. It was a good time to start that and it was what we wanted from our filmmaking. "Time Well Wasted" had the killer intro with the whole perspective trick thing. We spent a whole month shooting that and it was the first time we rented a studio space and used proper lighting and had a script and used computer tricks. We worked super hard on that and it got noticed by a lot of people so that was really rewarding for us.
One of my first days on the practice jump I crashed and broke my C6 vertebrae in my neck ... Sweet. src="http://a.espncdn.com/i/story/design07/dropQuoteEnd.gif" />
How about a quick run down of your last season, especially your involvement with the snowboarding component of the Opening Ceremonies at the 2010 Winter Olympics?
That was the project I just couldn't get the hint and quit. I get hired to be one of three riders to do this amazing stunt and jump through the Olympic rings at the Opening Ceremonies. At first, I didn't even know if I wanted to do it, if I wanted that kind of exposure, if it was totally bad for the core of snowboarding, if it would ruin me. David Aubrey was picked to do it, too, but he bailed 'cause he thought it was lame and not his style.
So after racking my brain for weeks, I decided to do it. Before we even started shooting I blew my knee and was out for months, so I missed the entire first filming of actual riding that you see in the video before the big jump through the rings. That was my first chance to bounce on the whole project, but no: I decided to continue on.
So we design a practice jump up on Blackcomb to work out the jump and all the dynamics of jumping and landing a 30-plus-foot step-down on complete plastic. One of my first days on the practice jump I crashed and broke my C6 vertebrae in my neck ... Sweet. So now I am so over it, this thing sucks, it's lame, I'm out... Well, I recover and they had done a lot of work on the practice ramp so I reconsider and decide to step up to the plate again. Now we are in B.C. at Place Stadium on the real jump, the real deal that will be the Olympic jump. First day of practice I freakin' land my jump but, riding out, I catch my toe edge on the plastic at the bottom of the ramp at maximum speed and slam hard straight onto my chest, breaking my collar bone and four ribs really badly. I'm in so much pain and I get rushed to the hospital.
This is the final curtain for me and the Olympic rings stunt; I was finally officially out. They say things happen for a reason and this one took me a while to figure out. In the end it all worked out greatfor Johnny Lyall and the stunt was a huge success. Everyone worked really hard on that project and the whole crew was really amazing to work with and I am glad I was part of it -- in my own freakish, injury-inducing way.